Twister season looms
Climatologist Debunks Tornado Safety Myths

May 01, 2000


LINCOLN - Ken Dewey, research climatologist for the University of Nebraska's High Plains Climate Center, is spreading the word that some tornado safety myths have been proven dead wrong.
Longtime advice to head for a building's southwest corner has gone out the window, so to speak, according to Dewey.
Researchers now consider the southwest corner the most dangerous because it's often struck first by winds. Instead, experts urge people to seek shelter in a basement or in the interior of a building on the
lowest level.

"You don't want to be in any corner; you want to be in the middle," Dewey said.

Getting revised safety messages across has been difficult because people often hear only part of a message, Dewey said. He offered his comments with tornado season looming this month.

Many people, he said, equated "interior room" with "bathroom." Although bathrooms are often interior rooms, sometimes they're not. Bathrooms on the perimeter of the house are the wrong place to head, he

"Go to the center of the building," Dewey urged.

Television videos depicting people escaping tornadoes by seeking shelter under highway overpasses make the dangerous practice seem safe. Wrong.

Overpasses become wind tunnels, with flying debris that can injure or kill. Drivers seeking shelter under viaducts often cause traffic jams that can endanger lives.

"Going under a viaduct violates rule number one --- get as far away from flying debris as possible," Dewey said.
Similarly, people panic and remember the old "get out of the car and into the ditch" advice, Dewey said. Weather experts now recommend leaving a vehicle and diving into a ditch only as a last resort.

"In many cases, it's safer to just drive away," he said.

People hold onto myths such as believing tornadoes don't cross rivers or hit cities even after storms strike, because they feel safer believing myths, Dewey said. However, that's naive and dangerous thinking. Severe storms are a real risk anywhere in Nebraska.

"Anyone in the state of Nebraska who feels smug and safe, it's merely a matter that the unthinkable hasn't happened yet," Dewey said.

Above all, Dewey urges taking precautions to avoid severe weather hazards. He suggests:

--Watch or listen to weather forecasts early in the day. If severe weather is likely, tune in periodically during the day.

--If severe weather develops, stop and assess the threat. If it's daytime and you can see the storm, consider driving perpendicular from it. Drive responsibly and safely as you seek to avoid the storm.

--If it's nighttime and you're on the road, assess the storm's severity. Stop driving. If winds are strong and accompanied by lightning and hail, head for a nearby restaurant or convenience store for a cup of
coffee. Stay inside and take cover if necessary.

"I want people to realize they have more choices than they think," Dewey said. "Their choices begin early in the day to listen to the radio. Know where buildings are if you're on the road. If anything, stay home."




Applied Climate Sciences,
School of Natural Resources